Pixar’s best-animated films are the ones that can take you someplace different with visuals you’ve never seen before and storytelling that catches you off guard. In other words, it’s the ones that make the adults weep the most, almost embarrassed that they’d have such feelings for an animated movie with the stigma of being strictly children’s entertainment. Being a big fan of animated films and their limitless potential for filmmaking, there’s no shame in admitting I wept for Coco, an animated movie that is surprisingly mature and honest in its drama of family and death.
The further this Cars franchise goes, the more creepy and bizarre questions arise, going unanswered. What happens when the cars of this world die? Are they buried in concrete, scrapped in a junkyard or harvested for parts at a hospital? Are there hospitals in this world of cars? Yes, these are all very stupid questions to be asking about a rather silly and simple story about sentient racing cars, but I expect more from Pixar. They’re a studio that usually puts a lot of effort into building their worlds so that I don’t find myself asking how fish talk and why a rat controls a human.
Continue reading ““Cars 3” Review”
Oh, how the movies of the yellow minions frustrate me so. While Despicable Me was decently cute, its sequel did little to improve on its cheap premise and animation. As such, these movies will never improve and only exist as cute little excuses for squat slapstick. The latest movie with the pill-shaped, pint-sized characters only displays how much more downhill this franchise can go.
Continue reading ““Minions” Review”
While the previous Dragon Ball Z movie managed to win me over by taking a new spin on the fantastical fighting formula, Resurrection F finds the franchise going back to its old bad habits. The villain this time around is the purple-domed alien Frieza, the most powerful warlord of the series that just can’t seem to stay dead. He is once again revived by his crazy zealots and once again seeks out Goku so he can once again get his revenge. This is a character that was once fearsome for controlling the galaxy’s greatest army and more than able to handle any warrior that could be thrown at him. But with this movie marking the second time he’s come back from the dead, he has lost that edge as a worthy antagonist. Even our heroes seem to be underwhelmed by his presence since they already know the outcome.
It’s not that Frieza doesn’t have any unique aspects to make him a great villain. He was once the ruler of the galaxy – lording over the villain-turned-hero Vegeta after having decimated his planet and his Saiyan race. Having been beaten twice by the Saiyan race which he once slaved has consumed him in rage. He lives only to see that Goku and Vegeta are dead. But after failing at this exact revenge plan once already, what has he learned since then? Apparently not that much. He builds up a new army to rule over the universe, but they serve as little more than a large amount of fodder for our lesser heroes to fight. Frieza has acquired a new form, but doesn’t have any new powers or surprising traits. And for a being that is revenge-driven, he sure spends a lot of time laughing manically and monotonously monologuing.
Resurrection F goes back to the direction which made Dragon Ball Z both iconic and deeply flawed. Whereas the previous movie Battle of Gods had character, this movie is mostly just fights. Veteran characters Gohan, Krillin, Piccolo, Tien and Master Roshi finally get a chance to show off their fighting abilities in how they dispatch wave after wave of Frieza’s forces. I had forgotten that Master Roshi – as old and feeble as he appears – could bulk up like the Hulk when he’s ready to fight. They all get to battle and show off their trademark special moves that I’m sure will make the hardcore Dragon Ball Z fans cheer to see these attacks once more.
Despite some rousing chase sequences of warriors battling through caves and woods, the fights become simpler and cheaper per Dragon Ball Z‘s budget-tightening animation. Characters will fight in blurs of action lines when in closeup and in spherical explosions when fighting from a distance. Blasts of energy are fired off as big, blinding lights that consume opponents. It’s amazing how this feature-length animation can have such rich colors of design and still revert to the old dog tricks of the series.
I suppose that given my familiarity growing up with the Dragon Ball Z TV series and its movies that I should be having some nostalgia for all this. There is no doubt in my mind that those who grew up on the franchise will have a soft spot in their heart for Goku delivering a Kamehameha wave or Frieza gnashing his teeth in rage at those pesky Saiyans. Memories are most likely surfacing of weekday afternoons huddled around the television to see what Goku would do next. Maybe I’m getting too old, but nostalgia just doesn’t do it for me anymore. After 14 of these Dragon Ball Z movies, I’d expect the resurgence to be something more than the same old thing. Would it kill the franchise to give just a little more depth and personality to Frieza?
But it’s Dragon Ball Z – why would I come in expecting more character than fight? It’s because Battle of Gods actually gave some character and humor in addressing the flaws and finding the stronger points. The past villain Beers, the galactic god of destruction, was such a welcome presence from the usual that he’s actually trotted out in this movie to give some comedic support. He’s just such a great villain as a lazy cat creature that refuses to destroy Earth as long as they keep providing him with ice cream and pizza. Beers grabs the attention of nearly every scene that it’s such a shame his purpose is to provide the most overused third act plot device of the sci-fi genre. They even announce this plot device early just so it doesn’t appear as though the writers just pulled it out of their butts when needed.
At its best, Resurrection F will at least hold your attention. I didn’t like how Frieza was so underwhelming, but was amused at how Goku and Vegeta were so disinterested in him as a threat to fight over who will destroy him. The day jobs of the Z warriors are only addressed as lip service, but still very much appreciated to see Krillin as a cop and Piccolo as a babysitter. These are all nice touches, but they still adhere to the usual formula as being minor strokes of character amid fight after fight. The only thing that truly feels different about this movie is the color palette. The new Super Saiyans have swapped out their yellow hair for blue and Frieza has ditched the white and purple exterior for gold and…purple. I guess the new purple is a shade darker so there’s at least some effort present.
Robot Carnival acts as a deluxe sampler for the best of Japanese animation. Developed by some of the freshest talent of the late-80’s – most being animators just starting to direct – it’s an anthology film with shorts centering around robots. Some are humanoid androids that interact with humans on dates. Some are human-controlled giants that do battle. And, in the case of the opening titles, some are in giant collectives that plow through towns to announce a movie.
What I found most unique was how Katsuhiro Otomo – one of the most notable names of his anime for directing the landmark animation AKIRA – saddles himself with directing the opening and ending credit sequences. He transforms the title of the movie into a grand machine that roams the lands with an arsenal of robots and explosions. As one of his early animation directing projects, you see his style take shape that would lay the groundwork for his anime future animated features of epic carnage. A robot orchestra provides the soundtrack with musical instruments – the trumpets shooting exploding rockets. A gaggle of robotic ballerinas twirl and descend to the ground where they bow to the populace before exploding. It’s strangely detailed and hauntingly amusing as per Otomo’s trademark style for violence. And that’s just the bookend segments.
Koji Morimoto, an animator who would later work with Otomo as well, takes a stab at robotizing the classic monster story of Frankenstein with “Franken’s Gears”. Through the power of lightning, a mad scientist brings his robotic creation to life with a result both tragic and hilarious. Hidetoshi Omori directs “Deprive”, a heroic tale of one android trying to save his human counterpart from an alien invasion. It’s a decent tale of rescuing the girl with a Terminator-style twist, but it’s more admirable for boiling down its story into a few short minutes. It hits all the right beats for just long enough as not to bore those who have seen this story before.
One element I haven’t mentioned yet is that most of these shorts have zero dialogue. One of the first to actually have some speaking roles is “Presence”, a period romance of a man trying to build female robot to escape his wife and family. And even though there is some dialogue, director Yasuomi Umetsu thankfully doesn’t rely on it as he keeps the short more visual than expositional. This is also a blessing for the sake of the English dub script and voices which are surprisingly lackluster for being produced by Streamline Pictures way back in the early 90’s. You can see this at its worst in the most dialogue-heavy short “A Tale of Two Robots” which adds in too much for the English script. There might be some vindictiveness given how the short appears as World War 2 propaganda with the Japanese and English facing off in a 19th century setting with rickety giant robots. Despite the national leaning, it is rather hilarious for its limitations of technology, the amusing English dialogue recorded in Japanese and that this short is staged as third part of a trilogy that does not exist.
There are some more light and artistic additions as well in the form of “Cloud”, Mao Lambo’s segment about a robot walking through time to eventually become a real human. It’s beautifully rendered the way the rise and fall of humanity is portrayed through flowing clouds. This is a sweet and somber short that helps break up the frenetic energy of other shorts.
The most stereotypically 80’s of all the shorts would be “Star Light Angel” (even the title sounds very 80’s). A teenage girl after recently experiencing a breakup finds herself getting lost in an amusement park where a robot employee begins falling in love with her. Complete with laser-light shows and bright neon colors, I can’t think of any other Japanese animation that encapsulates the decade so perfectly with its bubblegum tone of a music video. There’s even a shameless plug for Coke included which could only be more 80’s if Max Headroom was drinking it.
Last and certainly not least is “Nightmare”, a post-apocalyptic vision of the future where robots rule and one drunken human finds himself escaping death. There’s a tremendous amount of inspiration from the likes of Fantasia and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. It’s the most noteworthy of the batch not just for its stunningly intricate animation, but for touching on serious tones of robotization in a playful manner. This is perhaps one of the most defining aspects of anime that can achieve a thoughtfulness to darker subjects and find a way to transform them into unique works of art.
As far as anthology films go, Robot Carnival offers a lot of bang for the buck with a large number of shorts from tremendously talented artists. There are so many styles and tones present that there’s a little something for anyone seeking an animated sci-fi experience. With its operatic presentation and breathtaking animation, it’s the anime equal of Fantasia. And I’m aware that’s a lofty mantle to bestow, but it’s deservingly so as a unique experiment and a springboard for the talented anime directors of the 1990’s.
Dreamworks is an animation studio that usually aims to match the level of Pixar’s visual beauty, but rarely do they reach that level of storytelling. Home comes as a bit of a surprise in that it’s a bland dud in both categories. You need only compare the movie to Dreamworks’ projects of last year: the fantastical splendor of How to Train Your Dragon 2 and the quick wit of Penguins of Madagascar. By comparison, Home feels so stock and simple that it is as though it were produced by a studio struggling to be a Dreamworks production.
The design is just a bore. The gummy-shaped aliens known as the Boov are squat and simple beings that all look alike. I sensed a channelling of the formula for Minions, but those banana-colored, pill-shaped guys at least had a few differentiating designs to tell them apart. These aliens all seem as though they were clones, differing only in voice and maybe a mustache. But for as doe-eyed and cute as Dreamworks aims to make the Boov, they grated on my nerves with their annoying stupidity and inability to find a proper home planet. They’re led by an idiot of a king voiced by Steve Martin that has no idea how to lead, but plenty of time to babble in Steve Martin lingo. Somehow they manage to conquer Earth by vacuuming all the humans and quarantine them to Australia. How this tactic differed from their earlier conquering methods – where the Boov couldn’t handle carnivorous beasts or giant robots – is never answered. Perhaps Earth decided to destroy all their weapons. It’s the only acceptable reason how this invasion went so flawlessly.
The Boov are such ridiculously uneducated creatures – invading a planet where they don’t even comprehend how a toilet works – that the runt of the litter has to be incredibly foolish. So unlikable is this character that he has been designated as Oh (Jim Parsons), named after the sigh induced by his presence. All the Boov make loads of mistakes, but Oh is singled out considering his mistakes mostly damage his entire race. You can almost smell the heartfelt message about being an outcast careening towards the second act.
When Oh causes one too many culture-destroying errors, he goes on the lam to find a new home in Antarctica. Along the way he picks up the only human girl outside capture – a plucky preteen named Tip (Rihanna). She’s not a very interesting character outside of seeking her mom and acting as the straight character to the goofy Oh. They go ahead on their little road trip to their locations of choice, becoming best of friends along the way while they learn valuable lessons about family, friendship and all that jazz.
I don’t like walking into a movie where I can predict its outcome and my opinion, but there was a little voice in the back of my head that just screamed this movie was a product of an assembly line. All promotional materials seemed to suggest that this movie was rushed from Dreamworks’ template where they forgot to remove the placeholder content. They designed cute aliens, but didn’t make them unique. They added in a kid-relatable character, but forgot to give her personality. They staged a large-scale chase across an iconic city, but forgot to make it thrilling. They made the story family friendly, but threw out a truckload of logic in its world to make it so. They even jump the gun by relying on the tired device of dancing to pop music far too early that the inevitable finale of a dance party fizzles out any entertainment.
Home may seem as a cute little animation for the kids, but it’s overly fluffed up with soft content that even the kids will grow weary of its artificial sweeteners. There’s no imminent threat to make it thrilling, no big challenges for the characters to conquer and no daring nature to the story or its comedy. It’s a passive movie that will not offend with any violence or scary scenes, but won’t be uniquely entertaining either. And this is precisely why I can’t recommend the picture in that there is hardly any excitement or risk. Animated films should inspire the imagination of children with characters they can identify with and visuals that stimulate wonder. They shouldn’t just distract with a few crude jokes about urine, add in a familiar song with dancing and send them on their way.
And as long as I’m coming down hard on the movie, I might as well admit it: I hated the Boov. I didn’t like their design, their character or the culture. By the end of the picture I was hoping a large alien armada would swoop in to zap these little guys into globs of gelatin. Are these the kinds of thoughts a grown man should be having during an animated children’s movie which just wanted to be sweet and silly? Chalk that up to one more reason not to see this picture.
Once more I venture into the limitless void of the TV movie franchise Monster High. Intended as little more than a commercial for the brand of monster themed dolls, I desperately search for something to latch onto from the perspective of an adult male. I’m not picky – a clever use of dialogue, some decent character development, good looking animation or even just one small gag that makes me chuckle. I don’t walk into this endless array of Monster High movies expecting the worst every time. I genuinely pop in each disc hoping that this will be the one – this will be the movie where I finally see that hidden power of Monster High outside its marketing angle. Sadly, this is not that movie.
But let’s be fair. This is not the worst Monster High movie I’ve seen. The story at least has a decent angle. One lucky student specializing in fashion, Clawdeen Wolf (trademarked), receives the chance of a lifetime to travel to Scaris, France and compete for an apprenticeship with a top designer, Madame Ghostier (trademarked). That’s not a half-bad idea considering it’s within the wheelhouse of the franchise and the characters. The whole Devil Wears Prada plot allows for some unique characters added into the mix as well including a skeleton girl with a painted skull. No devil designer present though which could have made for some better jokes. It’s a genuine surprise from a series where all the characters look virtually identical and rely entirely on references and bad puns for comedy.
And, oh, how I wish there was something more to enjoy. The flat characters of simple phrases and traits seriously hamper the story that aims to include as many monsters as possible. Very little of Scaris takes advantage of the French location and theme outside of the cartoonish stereotypes. Then again, there isn’t much to showcase from the TV-budgeted animation of the stretchy CGI animation. The movie could at least take advantage of the monster angle which it almost always fails to capitalize on.
There’s one gag that manages to be effective as the girls remark on the skeletons in the catacombs. Turns out they’re just taking naps and shush anybody who wakes them. It’s a decent joke, but how does that explain an underground prison cell where it implies the last person wasted away to a skeleton? Does that imply that they still live on as a skeleton? Or can they become more accepted if they wear clothes and paint their skull? Are the catacomb skeletons actually hobos? Why do I keep asking these questions about a cartoon for little girls?
The most annoying aspect of the whole movie is that the plot refuses to stick to its running time. The real story wraps up about 40 minutes in. The remaining 20 are reserved for the ride back home in which the monster girls and boys hop around the globe to retrieve their luggage. The movie doesn’t even bother transitioning well into this segment by stating “hey, don’t you want to see how we got back?” Not really. You got on a plane, right? Oh, you had to make some detours to get back some mystical book that doesn’t really have any major consequences? Why did I need to see this? I’m perfectly content if the movie were only 40 minutes. This segment doesn’t really add anything extra to the story. It should be its own short or bonus episode included on the disc – not an excuse to bloat up a movie to an hour.
Scaris, City of Frights may be the only half-decent movie I’ve seen out of Monster High, but it’s still held back if not by its one-dimensional characters then for its short story (which required an extra episode just to make it an hour). Once again, I must preference this review in that I’m not in the target audience. I’m not 12, a girl or collect the dolls. I’m just an adult man writing a negative review about a cartoon movie made specifically and unquestionably to sell toys to little girls.
The world of .hack has grown far too meta and silly for its own good by the time it reached G.U. One glance at this movie and you’d swear you were watching a video game which is what .hack//G.U. happens to be. It’s a movie based on a video game about people playing a video game using video game animation. So even though you’re watching another cliche pastiche of anime action, it has the angle of being a video game that is hardly taken advantage of. But .hack can’t spend all its time trying to make its world a convincing online gaming environment. To do so means that the convoluted story would crumble under its own templated ambitions.
The online world of .hack//G.U. once again asks the viewer to put aside all semblance and rules of reality (literally). Pretend that the only way to solve an issue with video game users being thrown into comas with a video game is to actually go in the game and recruit players to solve this mystery. And by solve I mean wander around in the game and pretend to stir up drama. You can’t just shut down the game and debug this very serious issue. If the developers of the game did that, then we’d have no story.
The story is a-typical anime affair. Emotionally scarred hero befriends perky/shy girl. Girl is attacked by evil, emotionless man. Evil man and emotional hero fight for an extended period of time. I could make some ironic joke about how these fight sequences look like watching a video game instead of a movie, but I’ll keep it simple by just saying how blah the animation appeared. By 2007 standards, it’s not terrible CGI. In fact, it’s actually slightly higher on the scale of cel-shaded 3D animation. But it’s only used for moments of stilted dialogue and minimal-keyframe battles. It’s amazing how computer graphics can offer up something entirely different from hand-drawn animation, but this movie seems to be focused on replicating all of anime’s limitations – as if it were its own style to animating less.
There’s one big glaring problem with this whole setup and it’s that we never see the real world outside of this video game. It would really help sell the danger if we could actually see some of these players in reality being affected by the game and put into comas. Instead, the movie just expects you to take its word for it. For all we know, the characters we watch are not actually avatars of real people. They could all just be programs that are not aware of who they really are. We never see any of these characters not in the game so it’s entirely plausible.
As with all the .hack franchise productions, this title shares the same fundamental flaw of failing to take advantage of its own concept. You rarely feel as though you are witnessing a game world and more of a fantasy realm where sometimes an electronic display will pop up. In between all the dull-as-dishwater fights are some brief glimpses of creativity for the digital world. As a female avatar descends into a coma, she is confronted by ascending bubbles that burst with the snickers and gossip of those that judge the player in real life. There’s something here – something that could be capitalized upon to bring some character and world building to this anime. But the bubble bursts and it’s gone.
.hack//G.U. continues to expand the lore of its world and does nothing to bring outsiders into the fold. If you haven’t watched the previous anime series or played any of the .hack games, there isn’t anything to latch onto in this movie (or trilogy or whatever). On the basis for being so run of the mill with its design and story, I can’t find much of anything in this release to warrant even a rental.
Bless George Lucas’ heart for wanting to create an alternative animated film for his daughters. He puts forth an admirable effort to create an animated picture both unique and old-fashioned with its female-favoring story and plenty of musical numbers amid a classically told story of love and kingdoms. Strange Magic is a movie I want to love so badly in how daring and different it aims to be from the usual template of animated features. And yet I cannot bring myself to that point simply for all the familiar George Lucas faults, which remain present even when he’s not directing.
The story starts off simple enough, but soon twists itself into a series of love triangles. There is a good part of the forest with plants and fairies and a bad part of the forest inhabited with swamps and bugs. The good-natured Fairy Kingdom is about to have a wedding as the ecstatic princess Marianne is to be wed to the cocky Roland. But when she discovers that Roland has secretly given his heart to another, Marianne quickly sheds her princess persona to become a hardened warrior vowing never to fall in love again. Fairies must have wicked mood swings to go from romanced royalty to battle-hungry soldier in a few minutes. Perhaps the abundance of too much splendor in an overly cheerful forest kingdom brings out a quick wish to strife.
While Marianne builds up her angst, her best friend Dawn becomes kidnapped by the evil Bog King of the dark swamp lands. This comes just as the shy elf Sunny has acquired a love potion he hopes will win him the heart of Dawn. But when Dawn inhales the potion, the person she spots to fall in love with is the Bog King. Thus begins an adventure tale of sword fights, giant forest creatures, romance and musical numbers.
While all the songs are sung by different characters in context to their current emotions, these are all cover songs of classic rock and pop tunes. Nearly all the songs are actually sung by the lead voice actors Evan Rachael Wood and Alan Cumming. While their singing voices are more than decent, it made me wonder how much better they’d fair with more original songs as opposed to the overly familiar melodies of Burt Bacharach’s “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again” and The Troggs’ “Wild Thing”. George Lucas stated that he initially wanted to have Beatles songs, but they were too expensive. While it might have made the music a little more interesting, I doubt it would’ve improved the presentation nor would the other idea to simply make the movie an opera.
The biggest hurdle for any animated film to conquer – especially one that has been tossed around to various companies – is the animation itself. In terms of design and texture, this computer animated world doesn’t look half-bad. There was certainly some detail put into this as one of the cast members remarked how many changes her character’s hair went through. And while it’s pleasing to see computer animation with designs more anatomical than stylized, it certainly could have used more appeal. Maybe it was due to the production lasting 15 years in various stages, but the characters resembled those old animation tutorials I used to use in college. The fairies, trolls and elves all resemble designs that seem ripped straight from a student animation. It’s an A+ student project, mind you, but this is a theatrical animated picture we’re talking about written by an accomplished filmmaker.
There is some humor and spunk to Strange Magic, but it’s just as shoehorned in as the musical numbers amid a twisty plot of romances. All of the appeal – progressively appealing as it seems – just narrowly misses the mark. The animation is decent, but most kids are not going to respond to an animated film of decent quality. The songs are a charming addition, but outplay their welcome as the relation grows more base with the on-screen emotions. And, most importantly, it all just doesn’t blend as well it should. A fairy romance/action/musical animated picture may work someday, but not with this movie. With its fluctuating tones and simple story elements, Strange Magic is more strange than magical.
Years ago I ripped apart the merchandising vehicle that was Monster High, hoping it would die out within a few years for a new fad. Not only did it spur forth with many more films, but now it has expanded into live-action music videos. I later saw grown women donning the garb of the monster dolls for a costume contest. For as much as I loathed the pun-heavy writing and bland character development of those films, I now find myself pining for the eye-rolling of Monster High. After watching another one of these Lalaloopsy videos, I’d be grateful if my eyes could do something besides droop in boredom.
There really is nothing to this story and I’m struggling to find something to latch onto with Festival of Sugary Sweets. The doll world of the Lalaloopsy girls is currently obsessed with their festival of assembling mountains of pastries and cakes. I guess cavities are never an issue when everyone in your society is made of yarn, cloth and buttons. But, oh no, they’ve run out of sugar! What will they do for the festival? They learn to experiment with natural sweeteners and use more fruits and vegetables for assembling treats. And that’s about all there is in a script that’s padded out to fill 45 minutes. There is no major crisis that affects the festival and no character hangups that force anybody to learn anything.
But the way the film just quickly glazes over the aspects of the Lalaloopsy society did leave me with a few questions about their mechanics. The girls of this doll world seem to have organic means of consumption the way they are constantly gobbling down pastries and cakes. I originally thought that sweets were their sole means of nutrition given how it’s all I ever see them eat. Then the film introduces natural sweets and healthier options which may suggest that Lalaloopsy’s agriculture has similar formation to humans. But it appears that two of the littlest girls can make mud pies and actually eat them. This tears down most of my theory in that it’s possible the Lalaloopsy girls don’t actually have any taste buds or proper organs to process food. Is the act of eating just for pretend, echoing previous lifeforms that had taste and digestion?
This brings about the evolutionary questioning of Lalaloopsy’s conception. Just who made these girls and how are they created? I’m assuming they have some grand creator as there are no mothers or fathers present for these girls who seem to live on their own. Maybe they are all orphans of a horrible genetic experiment in combining brains with yarn, exiling the subjects to a secluded island where they run out their remaining days in harmless splendor. They all certainly appear to be built for specific purposes in mind the way their one-track habits rob them of any true personality. The cheerleader girl only cheers people in every aspect of life. Not cheering people on must result in termination of her functions since this character does nothing else in this movie. There are younger girls in the group so perhaps they have also mastered the art of procreation in their yarn-assembled race.
And I just now realized I’ve wrote an examination of Lalaloopsy longer and deeper than anyone will ever care to write. I’ve also probably written the word Lalaloopsy more times than any normal human being should have to write.
Festival of Sugary Sweets is another addition to the Lalaloopsy universe with more artificial sweetener than Splenda. There’s no engaging story or character development to hold your attention even on the most base level of children’s entertainment. The dolls are probably a great product and are a better use of time for kids to develop their creativity. Leave them alone with some of these toys for 45 minutes and I guarantee they’ll weave a better tale than this bland excuse for tie-in marketing.